Story by Morton Hochstein
Photos courtesy Marlo Marketing
No. 8 Kitchen & Spirits,
35 Main Street,
Tel: 978 792 5476.
Hours: Monday through Friday, open at 5 p.m.
Friday to Sunday, open at 4.
Kitchen closes at 10pm, but bar remains open up to 1 a.m.
There’s a large deck at the rear of No.8 Kitchen & Spirits in Amesbury, Massachussets, a historic mill town whose character has changed as traditional New England industries fell into decline. The restaurant sits a short distance from a reclaimed factory site which is now home to a rapidly growing clean technology center, indicative of how this New England community is evolving. As Michelin puts things, No. 8 is worth a detour.
The deck of the restaurant overlooks a waterfall and the nearby Pow Wow River.
If the late autumn weather had been five degrees warmer, we might have enjoyed the view while dining in the open air, but we opted for comfort and warmth indoors. We visited on a midweek night, and though the popular restaurant was full, it was easy to carry on a pleasant conversation.
No. 8 takes its name from its home in the former No. 8 Mill, which, like many New England factories, drew power from a free flowing river. Reclaimed wood, metal factory chairs, and antique signs recall its original industrial origins. Given the options of a large communal table looking into the open kitchen, seats near the bar, that chilly deck or the main dining room, we chose to sit near the kitchen so we could monitor our food preparation.
Almost as soon as we were seated, a bucket of sriracha-flavored popcorn appeared before us. No need for salt with that hot chili pepper concoction putting a new face on a humble staple, and also no need for dull, ordinary bread. In a growing practice which I often find disturbing, many restaurants today bring bread only on request and many now charge for what used to come free.
The menu here is an enticing battery of social, meaning small, plates and sides, charcuteries and a limited selection of main courses, with an emphasis on food originating in the region. Corn bread was on the menu and it was a wonderful alternative, particularly since we were able to slather crunchy golden pieces with jalapeno butter, a pairing worth the trip alone. One of those social plates was an overflowing duck confit hash with potatoes in soffrito sauce. The Latin style blend of sautéed tomatoes, garlic and onions was generous enough to serve as a main dish by itself.
Our group chose for the table the house cured meat board ($25), a selection of house-cured meats which included goat soppresata, with chili peppers adding heat to that form of salami, finocchio flavored pork pate, and duck breast. There’s enough on that platter, which changes with the seasons, to serve as a starter for four good eaters. There’s also a generous cheese board, ($15) primarily locally sourced, always changing. At our visit, it included Berkshire Blue, Foggy Mountain Stilton and Scamorza Affumicata, the last a smoked goat cheese coming from Wolf Farms, a revered Amesbury artisan producer.
For appetizers, we shared lamb meatballs accompanied by roasted eggplant and yogurt and grilled octopus and fingerling potatoes, dressed with a Peruvian barbeque sauce. Yogurt, though seemingly out of place, made an excellent companion to the octopus and the barbeque sauce.
My favorite among the main plates was a rabbit pot pie, the puff pastry mounding up over braised rabbit, sweet potato, pearl onions, and roasted carrot. Chef Paul Callahan has a way with seafood. He demonstrated that flair with seared scallops, whose delicate flavor was not overpowered by its plate companion, cauliflower dressed with a black garlic sauce. On nights when the moon is right and he’s in the mood, Jackson makes a gnocchi chowdah, a seafood mashup of clams, mussels, pancetta, and potato dumplings.
Highly locavore in its focus, the menu seldom stays the same, although some staples are always present. They include chicken in any number of variations, truffled and saltimbocca. The simply roasted chicken at our table was incredibly moist, tender and tasty. Recent offerings included roasted cod and the perennial No 8, half pound burger, served on brioche with pancetta and Vermont cheddar, and house cut potatoes, a best buy at $14. No coastal restaurant is complete without a lobster roll and here it arrives on a soft roll and in a departure from the norm, plated with avocado, cucumber and celery.
Most dishes are available as small plates, topping out at $20, or normal portions ranging in price from the high teens to the high twenties.
Paul Callahan’s playful, creative approach extends to the dessert menu, which on a recent visit included profiteroles with peanut butter ice cream, spiced chocolate ganache and a huge dollop of whipped cream, and a pistachio cake which shares the taste palate with compressed cherries and elderflower buttercream. Callahan’s ever changing lineup reflects his service in the kitchens of leading Boston area restaurants.
© March 2015 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.